Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shower for Mary

Just before Thanksgiving, an expectant mom was rubbing her tummy enjoying the feeling of her unborn little girl’s butt pushing against her front. This joyful mom-to-be with a twinkle in her eye asked this counselor, “What if the Christmas wise men were women?”

I pleaded ignorance and she was quick to tell me, “They would have asked directions.  They would have arrived on time, helped with the birth  — and would have brought practical gifts.”

I chuckled and suggested that the practical gifts might be a carton of pampers, a baby rattle and a casserole.  Much better, I thought, than frankincense, myrrh and gold, --or a check for that poor couple would be practical.

Another gift this expectant mom shared that would be nice would be a sleeper and some onesies. I was stumped. What’s are onesies? Expectant mothers know about onesies, but wise men are clueless. A onesie is a one piece outfit for a baby that snaps at the crotch.

Let me share that what this mother wanted most during her delivery was her husband at her side rubbing her arm. His touch of reassurance during the delivery was the most important gift that he could provide for his spouse. She wanted to be awake for the delivery and her female doctor was the kind of compassionate physician whom she had great faith and made her feel calm and comfortable.

The Christmas story has deeply rich meanings. It contains a profound theological message. It is this. Jesus was fully human. Some Christians blanch at the thought of Jesus in diapers, or Mary nursing her baby at her breast, or giving birth through her vagina.  They would like to think that Jesus just popped out of the womb miraculously and never pooped in his swaddling clothes.  That’s heresy, of course, Jesus was completely human — and so was his mother,

I like to focus on Mary’s story who has much to teach us. After all she was an unmarried pregnant teenager. There are many families who could relate to that. Then thirty-three years later the state executed her son as a criminal.  Too many poor and minority women have experienced that inconsolable pain.  Finally, tradition tells us she was a widow — another model for many.

This mother’s insights about the wise women also points to something extremely significant: more than two thousand years after Jesus’ birth many Christian churches still have not allowed women their rightful place at the altar. Just think of the tumult today in many churches about ordaining women or allowing them in pulpits. It’s a shame because women could help a pastor to be more efficient, compassionate and practical faith community.

It’s not only women, however, who can learn from Mary.  We all can.  She said,  “yes” to uncertainty, to the unknown, knowing full well what her family and neighbors would think of a young girl pregnant and unmarried. And what would Joseph’s reaction be? The Jewish law at the time could have had her stoned to death.

At times we all wonder what others think of us and how they judge us.  Most of us waste too much time and energy on that.  What others think of us is none of our business. Too often it keeps us from saying, “yes” to what life and God is calling us to do – and nothing is impossible with God.

God watches over us as we pray: “May your mother and father rejoice, may she who gave you birth be joyful.” (Proverbs 23:25).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are expecting a child soon. May this new mother-to-be join Mary in rejoicing over her newborn child and keep all our children healthy and safe from harm.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Make a Difference

As you sit at your table with your family and friends, getting ready to consume 5,000 calories it might be a good opportunity to share what you are truly grateful for.

Most news everyday features the topics: scandals, storms (economic or weather) and war. However, at the end of the broadcast is a special feature entitled: “Making a Difference.” Tuesday night featured a story about a group of young volunteers who months ago were protesting the greed of Wall Street. Now, they were working to relieve the suffering of families without power in NYC. It showed the young people unloading trucks filled with food, water and blankets handling them side-by-side into a church in New Your City. The young people had names tags with only there first name and the story said that there were no leaders in the group just folks who had come to offer their services. It featured a call center that was taking emergency calls for help. It showed a grateful women walking out with plates of food and blankets. Finally, they interviewed a young man who was in a band ad he told the reporter that after the band’s concert, he drove the van to NYC to help. The reporter asked why was he doing this? He simply said: “I am a New Yorker helping other New Yorkers.” This is call of Christ.

Yesterday, I celebrated a Thanksgiving liturgy for the people of Holy Family. I called the service “Making a Difference” Sunday, because I wanted to express my gratitude for all the wonderful gifts they share with one another and their neighbors.

Instead of living in panic or fear, this faith community has chosen to be resilient. They rolled up their sleeves to clean and paint, wash and scrub the pews to make their church ready for prayer and service. They did the same thing with the rectory and the community provides shelter to homeless families.

I thanked each parishioner for their service and included our homebound and those in nursing homes who are a “powerhouse of prayer.” These people promised to pray for our future success in their daily prayers.

My surprise was a Thanksgiving gift that I crafted and provided to each parishioner. They were Thanksgiving napkins for their table, representing their service to God and neighbor. Inside the napkins I wrote this Thanksgiving meal prayer that you are encouraged to offer at your table this Thursday:

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation!
Through your goodness we have so much
to be thankful for.

Make us grateful for all you have given us;
let our needs and desires not blind us to all we have.

Make us grateful for those who love us;
let no grudge or anger keep us from family and friends.

Make us grateful for those who are with us;
let no grief isolate us from their loving embrace.

Make us grateful for the good work we have done:
let our failures not weigh us down or blind us to your mercy.

Make us grateful for the freedom we enjoy; let our service men and women be safe and let us never take our freedom for granted.

Make us grateful for the peace we find in you;
let no resentment or past hurts take its place.

Make us grateful for our faith in you;
let no doubt or rejection keep us from your love.

Make us grateful for the meal we are about to share
and make us mindful of those who have so much less.

May we be strengthened to change
what keeps so many hungry while others have too much.
Give us grateful hearts, O God,
to praise and thank you
Blessed Thanksgiving, Fr. Matt

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lost Kitty

It is pitch dark outside and our worse fears are taking over us as I am screaming “Greee…Greee….” My shouts can be heard all over Genesee County. I walked toward my neighbor’s home where Mrs. McDonald keeps lots of kitties inside her home. Searching with my flashlight, I discover a kitty with a tan coat that looks somewhat like Greian, but Mrs. McDonald identifies this kitty as Mittens. My heart sinks to the ground thinking I had found our girl only to realize that she has a twin stepbrother.

The search continues for two hours and I am praying to all the saints to help us find this lost kitty who is in danger of being swooped up by a hawk or taken away by a fox or an assortment of predators. Please God help us find our Gecian. She might have enjoyed the thrill of leaving her home for the first time in ten years exploring a new world. But at this late hour, she would be hungry and crying to find her way back home for dinner.

I am now searching along the woods and shouting Greee…Grees. and suddenly spot two eyes glistening in the darkness. I have no idea if it is our Greian, but I move closer and see the color is correct. The cat moves slowly away from the light and disappears. You got to be kidding. I had her in my sights and she disappears into the darkness. Please God, help us find this lost kitten. Greee…Greee.. and after a few minutes the eyes appear again. I lower the light from her eyes and keep track of her location. We move in slowly and she walks slowly into a bramble of bushes. On our hands and knees we crawl up closer to this cat and slowly reach out to cuddle her back into safety. But who is this cat? Is it Greian or Mittens? We check to see if this tan kitty has black spots on its nose. We can hardly see in the dark but with a closer look the spots are there. It is our Grecian!

When have you had a moment where your heart sank to the bottom of your feet because the love of your life walks away. At these moments we pray up a storm asking God to help us through the tears and fear that we will never see our loved ones again. For some, it could be there spouse being deployed to a combat zone, for another, there child gets involved in drugs, or worse, a spouse walks away from the marriage. What is your darkness?

For some people, Grecian is only a cat that found a way to steal a few a moments of freedom because someone was careless and left the door open. Our take is that she is an innocent animal that needed our protection and diligence to help find its way home.

That’s what God is like. Our light in times of storms, our protection when we find ourselves walking in the darkness, our shepherd who comes to our rescue when we are in danger and feel all alone.

God watches over us as we pray: “We trust in the Lord, as the Lord rescues us. The Lord deliver us, since he delights in each one of us.” (Psalm 22:8).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who feel that they are walking in darkness at this moment. Let my dear friends hear the voice of God calling their name not to be afraid for God comes to rescue us from all our fears and pain. Grecian is now safety back home enjoying her dinner and resting on my lap fast asleep.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Help of the Helpless

There are moments in our lives that fell “gut wretching.” Like a loved one leaving overseas to defend our country, or worse a loved one being abandoned by their partner after many faithful years of married life. How does anyone get through these moments woithout fear. The answer to our human fear is faith.

 "The Lord helps those to help themselves" is simply false and misunderstood. his is not what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible says that the "Lord helps those who admit their helplessness." The words in Scripture go like this:” God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but  our eyes are on You.” (2 Chroniciles 20:12).

What is recorded sounds more realistic like…"We don't know what to do. So we look to you for help." The song writer put it "Help of the helpless, O abide with me." Do you know who wrote “Abide with Me” and how it came about?

It was composed one Sunday evening in 1847 by the Rev. Henry F. Lyte. It seemed that a deep sadness had settled upon him. He, according to the story, had just returned from his last communion service at his pastorate of 24 years at Brixham, England.

A fatal illness had attacked him and he was preparing to leave England and go to a warmer climate. Toward evening he walked down his garden path to the seaside and there thought out the words of his famous hymn. Later he worked together the words from his sense of helplessness that he felt (that anyone of us would) and his trustful dependence upon Jesus. He is the "help of the helpless".

He returned to his home, wrote out the hymn and later perfected the words and gave to the Christian world a great, tender prayer-hymn. After that he left for the south of France. He arrived at his niece's home and soon after died with his whispering words, "Peace! Joy!" as he pointed his finger toward upward.

Some of the words are, "Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord abide with me.”

My point is that phrase - "help of the helpless, O abide with me" must be our paryer in moments when we panic and are overcome with fear. How will I get on in life without my partner at my side.  Remember, the Lord does NOT help those who help themselves. He helps those who admit their helplessness. His power is available. In fact, He puts it this way, "He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength."

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Frineds who are feeling helpless at this moment. As we cry out, we pray, "Abba at our side.” Thank you that there is power to those who have enough guts to admit that they are helpless.